Wind farm begins to power national grid

A $440 million wind farm with future capacity to power Wellington was connected to New Zealand's electricity grid yesterday.

Twenty 111m-high turbines at Meridian's West Wind project in the hills of Makara began spinning to generate enough energy for 17,000 homes.

By the end of this year it will use 62 turbines, which have 40m-long blades, to generate enough power for 70,000 homes - the whole of Wellington.

Prime Minister John Key, who opened the farm, said it was exciting for Wellington but also gave New Zealand an opportunity to boost its clean green image.

Both Mr Key and Meridian chief executive Tim Lusk acknowledged opponents of the wind farm.

Makara residents lost a two-year battle against the project in the Environment Court. The court reduced the size and number of turbines in response to their concerns.

Mr Key said: "There is ultimately some noise that comes off turbines but hopefully the locals won't be affected."

Mr Lusk said Meridian was determined to improve relationships. "We have listened to your arguments which have always been well made, we have tried hard to accommodate your concerns and we do realise we have a way to go to demonstrate that we can be good neighbours.

He added that the project was a boon for Wellington.

"West Wind is a wonderful prize for Wellington, a world-class wind generation asset right on the doorstep of a city that is best known for the strong winds that frequently batter it."

Wind Association chief executive Fraser Clark said the farm would help keep electricity affordable as gas prices were predicted to soar. "We need a clear and stable policy and regulatory environment to give wind farm developers confidence in investing in new generation," he said.

One element of that would be an Emissions Trading Scheme - which is under review.

Mr Key said changes to the Resource Management Act would improve processes but opponents' views had to be considered.

- NZPA

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